Developer Richard Poulton’s hopes of speeding up his application for his proposed Montclarion II building along Bloomfield Avenue were dashed when only one of three witnesses was able to testify at the Montclair Planning Board meeting on June 23. The meeting got bogged down in confusion over civil engineer Diogo Santos’ testimony over parking. Anyone who eagerly awaited architect Paul Sionas’ presentation of his revised design for Montclarion II would have to wait a little longer, as the board ended discussion of the proposed building after 90 minutes and devoted the remaining 90 minutes of the meeting to continued discussion of the proposed master plan.
Santos testified on the outdoor parking lot and the indoor garage for residents incorporated in the design. The existing surface parking lot behind the original Montclarion would be configured to have 25 standard spaces, three compact spaces, and three handicapped spaces, with two parking decks under the new building. The upper deck of the indoor garage would have 31 standard spaces, one compact space, and three handicapped spaces, with 27 standard spaces in the lower deck; each would have its own entrance, made possible by the downward slope of the terrain from the western end of the building to the eastern end. All parking would be accessible from Pine Street at the southern end of the existing Montclarion building. Seven new LED lighting fixtures would be installed in the lot, with two building-mounted fixtures set five feet below the lowest window sill to keep light from entering apartment windows.
The confusion over parking began when resident Aldrich Fortman, who complained about the blueprints not facing the audience, asked if the ten spaces in the Montclair Mews parking lot allotted to Montclarion I by easement were incorporated into the overall parking plan for Montclarion II. Told by attorney Neal Zimmerman that they were, Fortman asked why they were included in the presentation when the ten spaces were restricted to the original building.
Sensing a misunderstanding, Board Chairman John Wynn tried to clear it up. He explained to Fortman that designated parking would be available for all residents of both Montclarion buildings, and that Poulton and Zimmerman were basing calculations of the number of necessary parking spaces on existing parking for Montclarion I, which include the ten Mews spaces.
“The parking on the Montclair Mews property is still only going to be used people in that original building and that [cars in] the new building will be entirely parked within its footprint,” Wynn said.
Further questions from Fortman and other Montclair residents focused on the 31-space exterior lot behind the site of Montclarion II and accommodations for visitors’ parking and parking for the building’s storefront. No definite provisions had been made for visitors, with six spaces devoted to employees of the store. Residents were perplexed at the arrangement, casting doubt on how parking could be managed effectively between visitors, customers for the Montclarion II’s commercial business, along with concerns that people coming and going would create traffic problems on Pine Street between Bloomfield Avenue and Glenridge Avenue, especially with commuter parking garage across Pine Street. Zimmerman said that he and Poulton were open to a traffic study and how shared parking could be employed. Further testimony on Montclarion II is slated for August 11.
The second half of the meeting focused on the proposed master plan, which was surprisingly low-key. There was a clear consensus on rejecting the idea of four-story buildings and commercial usages on Forest Street between Glenridge and Claremont Avenues, which board member Martin Schwartz noted was an idea that deviated from a proposal to let professional artisans set up their studios and offices to run their businesses in a residential area, with Forest Street as a possibility given its proximity to Montclair Center. The board agreed that such a designation could be possible elsewhere in Montclair, but not on Forest Street given the opposition to any commercialization there. “We don’t want it,” one Forest Street resident shouted.
“And you’re not going to get it,” Councilor-at-Large and board member Rich McMahon said with a smile.
Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville spoke to reaffirm her opposition to ten-story buildings in the Lackawanna Plaza area, a position she said she confided privately to Planning Director Janice Talley, and asked if the area’s historic designation could be extended. Schwartz said that then-Mayor Ed Remsen had rejected a proposal to extend the Lackawanna Plaza historic district to the parking lot to allow a Commerce (now TD) Bank branch to be built there without Commerce having to present plans to the historic preservation commission. He said, though, that the district could still be extended to encourage “tasteful” development advocated by Dr. Baskerville or incorporated into the master plan to guide development away from anything out of character with the district. For her part, board member Carole Willis made it clear that she opposed ten-story buildings in Lackawanna Plaza, which prompted applause from residents.
On the issue of developing parking lots in Upper Montclair, resident Scott Kevelson emphatically expressed opposition to developing the Bellevue Avenue parking lot, insisting that it should remain an open area to reaming in character with the business district, prompting Chairman Wynn to ponder how to reconcile complaints about lack of parking in the Upper Montclair Business District with complaints about proposals for expanded parking. Other board members noted that buildings and lots behind buildings farther south along Valley Road could be redeveloped to accommodate more parking, citing the CVS building and the A&P property as potential sites, while keeping the village quality of the immediate area around Valley Road and Bellevue Avenue. Resident William Scott said that the master plan should promote more affordable housing through incentive zoning rather than defer the issue by allowing developers to move affordable housing off-site and let it remain in limbo for political reasons, such as the Wildwood properties.
Luther Flurry of the Montclair Business Improvement District (BID) praised efforts to protect residential neighborhoods but added that Montclair Center still had a way to go before it could become fully vibrant. He stressed the need for greater mixed use along Bloomfield Avenue. He said the BID advocated changing parking times to allow business customers to stay longer and changing zoning rules to increase offices and residences in the downtown area to get more people to live and work in and enliven it. He said the Montclair Master Plan should embrace such changes rather than study them.
The next public hearing on the master plan proposal is tentatively scheduled for August 25.
Meanwhile, Talley also announced that Vice Chairman Paul Rabinovitch is no longer on the board, having moved to the San Francisco Bay area to take a new job.